Thursday, 17 March 2011

Mystery of Suffering

I wrote this last Thursday reasy for the column in the Chester Standard , the day before the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan; events like these really do gt me wondering! Many of my wonderings over the years keep coming back to “why questions”. Questions that all of us ask when we start to really think about life and God’s place in it. Probably the biggest “why question” is, ‘why is there suffering?’ This question at times touches all of our lives. In these days of instant communication we are confronted regularly with unbelievable suffering caused by the major horrors of famine, war and natural disasters. Even though we may become immune to such things that happen at a distance, sooner or later suffering strikes closer to home, whether in our own lives or in the lives of those who are close to us.

There is also no problem that impinges more directly on the question of the existence of God. In hundreds of conversations I have had with people about the relevance of the Christian faith, this question has come up more than any other. If there is a God, why does he allow such suffering? I believe that most people, unconsciously or otherwise, resist the idea that God is evil and desires to make life miserable for us. It is easier to reject the idea of God altogether. This solves the problem by removing the dilemma. However, it also raises several other problems. First, there is no one to blame for the suffering. You may complain, but you have no right to complain and no one to complain to. If there is no God, why shouldn't there be suffering? In a godless universe there is no reason at all why there shouldn't be. Second, you have no one to turn to for strength to cope, other than your own limited resources or the resources of other humans, who might, one hopes, care about your suffering.

To rule out the existence of God raises a third problem. How do you explain such things as love, unselfishness, gentleness, goodness, sacrifice, reason, intelligence, and justice? C. S. Lewis, once said: “When I was an atheist...my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A person does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line...Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.”

Sometimes people ask why doesn’t God intervene – the answer is that he did, nearly 2000 years ago, God intervened in the lives and history of man by giving His Son Christ Jesus to share in human suffering. As we go through this season of Lent, this 40-day period, before we celebrate Easter, is it time to stop, to let go and to give away. Maybe, even the time to embrace the mystery of suffering in the light of a loving God.